“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mi Casa, Su Casa: KT McCaffrey on Literary Snobbery

A Grand Vizier writes: The motives behind ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ are twofold. First, the idea is to give guest bloggers the few molecules of oxygen of publicity Crime Always Pays can provide. Secondly, even we’re sick of listening only to ourselves, and we reckon some new voices will provide fresh perspectives on crime fiction in general, and Irish crime fiction in particular. And so, with minimum fanfare – a tiny tootle there, please, maestro – here’s KT McCaffrey (right) on – boo, hiss, etc. – literary snobbery.

Several years ago, I attended a literary gathering in the Hume Street HQ of Marino Books, my publishers at the time. Being new to the game and greener than spring cabbage, I experienced what I’ve now come to call Literary Snobbery. I should explain that Marino Books – an imprint of Mercier Press – tended to specialise in literary writing with a special emphasis on poetry. As an experiment, Marino, under the astute guidance of Jo O’Donaghue, decided to dip its toe in the mass market segment of the book trade. As I recall, myself and Terry Prone were the first to be taken on board to test this new strategy. Did it work? Well, I was never given sight of the actual sales figures so it’s hard to tell. I do know, however, that given the size of the print run, the exercise appeared to be relatively successful.
  And so it happened that all the Marino authors, staff and associates, were invited to a pre-Christmas get-together to celebrate the success of the year’s output. That particular year, my second crime fiction paperback, KILLING TIME, had notched up impressive sales, edging its way into the bottom half of the Top 10 Irish best-sellers and attracting a handful of laudatory reviews. Damn it, I had arrived. There I was, chin up, back straight, chest out, vol-au-vent in one hand, glass of red in the other, holding my own with the best of them ... or so I thought.
  Three glasses in, I was giving it large with the verbals when a tall female author, well known in literary circles (though I didn’t know that at the time) asked me if I was happy with my publisher. I said yes, in general I was happy, but annoyed that a few typos and spelling mistakes had made it on to the printed page. She seemed surprised at this and asked what kind of books I wrote.
  “Crime fiction,” I replied, my confidence boosted by the intake of wine.
  She looked at me as though I’d just farted in her face and said, “Oh, crime fiction, well of course it doesn’t really matter in that case.”
  For me, this represented the beginning of a steep learning curve in regard to the differing attitudes I’ve since encountered on planet Literati.
  I think it was about this time that playwright, Hugh Leonard, in his Sunday Independent column, bestowed his ‘Gobshite of the Year’ award to all those readers who’d bought copies of Robert James Waller’s THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, consigning them to the status of Philistine. Never mind the fact that Clint Eastwood, who may or may not be as bright as Mr Leonard, read the book and liked it enough to turn it into an award-winning film. More recently, in similar vein, game show host Henry Kelly penned an article in which he took issue with all readers who had the audacity to read and ‘enjoy’ Dan Brown’s THE DA VINCI CODE.
  I accept that there are good books and bad books, same as there’s good art and bad art, good music and bad music. Few would argue with that. What gets me is the sheer arrogance and snobbery of those who would presume to chastise the rest of us who succumb to popular culture. I like to think I belong to the Melvyn Bragg ‘broad cultural church’ when it comes to the arts; I love the South Bank Show’s habit of showcasing such various disciplines and artistic divergence as, say, Ian Rankin and J.K. Rowling alongside Mohsin Hamid and Adam Thorp. Unlike some of his contemporary arts commentators, Bragg does not relegate crime writers to the second-division or reject a book simply because it is ‘popular’, ‘a page turner’ or God forbid, ‘plot driven’.
  Is it too much to ask for a little humility, respect and understanding from those who should know better? Yes, of course it is, and besides, what the hell would I have to gripe about if that were to happen? Sorry, did I mention John Banville? – KT McCaffrey

KT McCaffrey’s THE CAT TRAP is published on February 29

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